WRiTE CLUB 2018 - Bout #10


Reminder - You can follow along with all of the bout results right HERE, and remember, the bouts stay open for one week.

Today closes out week two with the 10th of 15 bouts.  Here's a refresher of what's going on, in case you forgot how things work here.

Weeks ago the submission window opened for this year's contest where we asked anybody wishing to participate to submit a 500-word writing sample – using a pen name. The sample can be from any genre, flash fiction or something from a larger piece of work, basically, anything goes except that it cannot have been previously published or posted on the internet. All of the rules regarding how to submit can be found here. After the submission period closed, we had fifteen judges (we call them our slush pile readers) read all 181 submissions from 132 writers and once all the ballots were total we narrowed the 181 down to the 30 that will be stepping into the ring over the course of the next three weeks. Today is the first of those bouts.

How this works – two anonymous (pen name only) writing samples step into the ring. Visitors to this blog (that’s you) read both entries and vote for the one that resonates the most with you. We ask that you leave a brief critique for both writers with your vote because that is one of the real values of this contest – FEEDBACK. Please be respectful with your remarks!

Even though there will be a different bout every day (M-F), the voting for each bout will remain open for seven days from the date it is posted to give as many people as possible to have a say. The voting for today’s bout will close on Thursday, May 3rd (noon central time).

It’s that simple. The piece that garnishes the most votes moves on to the next round where they’ll face a different opponent. Using a tournament style format, the 30 contestants will be whittled down to just 2, and the winner of that final bout will be announced at the DFW Writers Conference in Hurst TX June 9-10

In case of a tie, I’m the deciding vote. I can do that because, like all of you, I do not know the real names of our contestants either (my wife processes all the submissions).

Oh yeah – for every bout that you vote in, your name (see rule #2 below) will be placed into a hat for a chance for a $40 Barnes and Noble Gift card that will be drawn after the contest concludes.

A few rules –

1) One vote per visitor per bout.

2) Although our contestants are anonymous, voters cannot be. Anonymous votes will not count, so if you do not have a Google account and are voting as a guest, be sure to include your name and email address.

3)Using any method (email, social media, text, etc) to solicit votes for a specific contestant will result in that contestant's immediate disqualification. It’s perfectly okay, in fact, it is encouraged to spread the word about the contest to get more people to vote, just not for a specific writer!

That’s enough jibber-jabber…like the man say’s –




In the far corner, we have Alex T. Hilton representing the YA Science Fiction genre.


Aside from the white spectral creature stalking Jude, the night was perfect. The Tower Comics theme park, curtained with scents of hot-fried dough, pinged with laughter, and clanked with climbing rollercoasters. Everyone in that park—including Jude’s friends—reveled, all unaware of the danger. Rob, his denim-clad arms crossed, smiled at Heather, the curly haired wonder, who giggled and nudged him with her hip as Jude let them walk ahead.
            Behind Jude, the feathered creature slithered through the crowd. It bumped around kids in capes, only wanting Jude. Like his friends, no one else could see—had ever been able to see—the ghostly creatures except for him. Yet, this floating mist-snake and its long, jagged teeth could take a chunk out of any of the costume clad park-goers. So, it was Jude’s responsibility to do something about it.
 Tonight, though?
Couldn’t it have chosen a night when Jude was in his room reading a comic and not surrounded by people?
            He sighed deeply. For the first time in five homes, he’d found a place where Mom didn’t move them within a year. Sure, Austin, Texas had its share of weirdos, but for two long years it’d lacked the normal—let’s say—excitement that came with being him. In Michigan, he’d watched as a fellow fifth grader’s voice was stolen by a Butterfly. In Ohio, his two thirteen-year-old friends had been sucked into the sidewalk. Compared to all that, Austin had been relaxing.
            If he tried to stop this thing, his family would be packed and running by 3:00 AM. If he didn’t, then what would happen?
Someone let out a squeak.
Sudden anxiety gripped Jude’s stomach. He turned to spot a girl with android face paint—wires spiderwebbed around her eyes. Her circuit painted hand clutched a cup of popcorn as she stumbled back. She had just walked into the creature and was mere inches from it now.
The creature rolled in on itself, pretzeling its lithe body so it could face her. It hissed, flashing rows of spiraling, screw-sized teeth. She blinked, completely unaware of the jaws hinging open in front of her face as it reared back.
Jude forced heat to snap in his chest that quickly spread outwards to his fingers and toes. He couldn’t Burn too hot right now, not with all these people. Too much, and he’d start glowing like a paper lantern.
The girl couldn’t see the monster, but she must have been able to sense the impending danger because she backpedaled. Jude imagined a thin, coiling string in his hand, felt it form there. In a flash, he tripped her. Popcorn leapt from her cup onto the bricks as she landed awkwardly on her butt.
The Snake whizzed over her head, biting nothing but the trails of her hair. The long, floating, feathered body twitched with frustration. But then the eye-less, forked head sensed through the crowd by tasting his spent energy. The creature swung its head, practically salivating.

Oh, shit.
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And in the near corner, we have TravelingGnome representing the Mystery genre.


Gertrude mentally checked “murder” off her bucket list. She watched as two crewmen carefully wheeled a gurney, a white sheet contouring the decidedly dead body, off the cruise ship and headed toward a van discretely marked Coroner. She clutched her cane and hobbled toward the gangplank, an attendant wheeling a cart-full of matched luggage in her wake. Handicapped people always debarked first, (barring any dead bodies, at least); that was one of the perks of being old.

At eighty-seven she wouldn’t get many more chances to execute her bucket list. So, when the opportunity had presented itself, with a handy knife she’d stolen from her steak dinner and an invitation to the cabin of an elderly windbag with tufts of white hair she’d met at the casino on the Lido Deck, well, it was fate. Like God had personally approved the execution of the odious man for chain-smoking cigarettes non-stop (a nasty habit!) and tossing down liquor like he was immune to death. Moderation was key. She would have told him that, if he was still alive.

“Watch your step here,” the attendant said, helpfully offering a hand onto shore.

“Thank you,” she replied. “You’re such an obliging young man.” She patted his arm and he beamed.

The coroner’s van was parked by baggage claim and sat silently like a hearse, which she supposed it was. Gertrude couldn’t resist a peek at her handiwork. It would just take a second. Her hands trembled slightly as she balanced herself on the fender, pushing herself up high enough to peer inside the rear window. The sheet had slipped to the floor, and there he was, the man who used to be Floyd. Her face flushed at the sight of him. Except for the rather hideous gash across his throat, he appeared to be napping.

Heavens to Murgatroyd! Did I do that? She held a chubby hand to her chest feeling the fluttery thump of her heart through her floral muumuu. The jagged flaps of his throat would have to be sewn back together before the funeral. It would be closed casket.

“Ma’am, are you ok?” It was that pesky attendant again, looking to help where he wasn’t wanted.

“I’m fine. Thank you, dear. I just needed to rest my old bones a moment before I call a taxi.”  

“I’ll take care of that for you.” He pointed away from the van. “There’s a covered bench just over there where you can wait comfortably.”


Gertrude risked another peek at Floyd and closed her eyes savoring the feeling. Warmth like a cup of hot tea on a winter night swept through her body as she replayed the event over and over, watching on the movie screen of her eyelids at the horror on his face when he realized an eighty-seven year old great-grandmother was ending his life. She clenched and unclenched her arthritic hands where they had held the heft of the knife and smiled.
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Leave your votes and critiques in the comments below. Again, be respectful of your remarks and try to point positives as well as detractions.


We’ll be back tomorrow with another bout.  See you then.


78 comments

  1. Alex T. Hilton-are you sure this is scifi? It sounds more like it has more fantasy elements (monsters, magic, etc). Reminds me a bit of Odd Thomas meets Buffy. Had a bit of trouble determining if the monster had a solid form since you said it was spectral and mist-like yet somehow the girl bumped into it? "The eye-less forked head sensed through the crowd by tasting..." Sensed feels like an awkward word choice here. Overall a great submission, sometimes it felt a little too heavy on adjectives.

    TravelingGnome-Flash Fic always impresses me with the ability to tell an entire story in <500 words. Way to go! Enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek descriptions of the old lady and I would love to see what else she has on her bucket list. A good balance of creepy descriptions of the body and playfulness with "Heavens to Murgatroyd!"

    Overally enjoyed TravelingGnome more but both were great. Tough choice. Today's vote goes to TravelingGnome.

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  2. As the second week of competition winds to an end, Alex T. Hilton and TravellingGnome step into the ring, the first tossing aside his cotton candy, and the second handing her Zimmer frame to a helpful ringside attendant, before cracking her knuckles.

    *DING*!

    Both fighters start strong, with clear game-plans in mind — a paranormal stalking creature on one side, an accomplished murder life-goal in the other, the stakes are high on both sides, from the very first seconds of this bout.

    The settings are also interesting on both sides, even though Hilton stumbles a bit in his initial descriptive footwork, with a confusing second sentence structure that puts “curtained” on the same level as the action verbs “pinged” and “clanked”, forcing rereadings and interrupting the initial flow. At the same time, however, the Gnomish execution is far from perfect as well, with an odd “comma into parenthesis into semi-colon” combination that just doesn’t hit the mark — and then dives into a large chunk of past perfect tense “previously, on Murder Great-Granny” summary that seems out of proportion for a 500-word sample. Maybe we could have had that story instead?

    Hilton carries on into an interesting bit of character development, adding personal stakes to the flesh, blood and ectoplasm action already present in the story. But the magic system itself, which is a structural element of the story, seems unclear, perhaps as a result of having such a short passage to work with. He “snaps” heat inside himself, which could him to “burn”, but then he imagines a string in his palm and the girl falls over? This isn’t clear and creates a disappointing finish to the routine.

    It is TravellingGnome who lands the strongest punches at the end of the bout, with a clear view into the mind of Gertrude, and her pleasure at turning over a new leaf and picking up a murder hobby at 87 years-old. Like crochet or bridge, such a rush may well become habit-forming, and I could see this fighting style taking the Travelling Gnome to great narrative distances, if executed properly.

    Two well-matched contenders today, with solid premises and execution that needs tightening-up and polishing. But all in all, it’s one point for TravellingGnome!

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  4. Two entertaining entries, which means I have to be nit-picky to choose.

    Could an extra comma doom an entry? Alex, you have one too many in that second sentence. I was wondering what kind of list you were giving, when I realized it's not a list at all. Get rid of that comma before the and, and it all makes sense (or better yet, put dashes before and after the curtained with scents section and it's even clearer). As for your genre, it sounds more like horror than sci-fi (I love horror), but I've known plenty of sci-fis to be horrors, too. Aside from that blunder at the beginning, the story took off and hooked me.

    Could the incorrect genre listed doom an entry? TravelingGnome, when I saw mystery as the genre, I assumed (wrongly), that the old woman was going to figure out who-done-it (because the genre itself tells the reader that there is a murder to solve). And while I enjoyed reading this little bit (that old woman is a hoot), the woman was making no sense. Maybe a little bit more about her bucket list would have been enough, but something was lacking and only because I was expecting a mystery.

    Another hard choice (aren't they all?), but my vote goes to Alex T. Hilton (for the hook!).

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  5. Even though I was interested in "Alex T. Hilton", I didn't fully comprehend what was going on. For that reason, "TravelingGnome" gets my vote because I liked the storyline of an unremorseful murderous great grandmother.

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  6. Starting with Alex T. Hilton: There were a few confusing sentences, mostly due to comma placement. The Feathered, mist-like snake description is a little hard to picture, but I’m assuming since this is sci-fi this is some sort of alien… I’m assuming Jude is human but he has abilities and maybe he is also an alien or a superhero of some sort. I think this genre is fine. We don’t know enough about the story to be certain.
    Overall, I did have questions… What is this coil thing coming from his hand? Where those kids that were sucked into the sidewalk go? What is Jude? What Does the creature want and where did it come from? Those are good questions to have at 500 words in.
    I only got a taste of the main character, but I know enough to want to know more. Good job.

    TravelingGnome: Solid writing. Nice scene setting. I was there, waking off the ship with psychotic granny. The writing was clear and concise; it did not leave me confused at any time about what was happening in the story. However, an 87-year-old murderous granny, who kills a stranger for no other reason than to make a mental check on her bucket list is far fetched, but so are aliens, I get it. It was the part where she had zero remorse and actually felt warm inside at seeing the dead body that it took a turn for me. Also, it wasn’t a mystery when we knew from the second paragraph that Granny was the murderer. Maybe horror?

    Both writers are talented. In the end, I need a character to root for, someone I want to read about, someone I want to follow on a journey. For that reason, my vote goes to Alex T Hilton.

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    2. I seriously can’t type in this tiny screen on my phone. I’m like the Grannies from the other story. Lol

      *Where did the kids go that disappeared into the sidewalk ? That’s what it was supposed to say... or ask. 😉

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  8. Alex T. Hilton, while this section is word-heavy, I’m still pulled in, wondering what this creature is and why only Jude can see it. I’m concerned for everyone at the park, but have confidence our hero will save the day!

    Traveling gnome, with a mystery genre, I was expecting a whodunnit. I was excited to be pulled on this mystery adventure. But then we found out it was granny so the mystery was gone. I could see the humor—and props to a granny who checks things off her bucket list—but I was left with an unsettled feeling and was concerned for everyone one leaving the ship, but this time I knew there wouldn’t be a hero to come save anyone.

    My vote goes to Alex T. Hilton. I would definitely keep reading to find out what this creature is, especially with a sci-if genre—are they mutant animals or aliens? But also, I want a protagonist I can stand behind.

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  9. Alex T Hilton: Overall the story was good and hooked the reader, but i feel like at the beginning there was too much comma use. It gave a list like feel to it.

    TravelingGnome: The story was good but for a mystery i feel like the answer was given up too fast instead of working up to it being the grandmother.

    Both stories were good but my vote goes to Alex T Hilton.

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  10. This is a tough one. I love the idea of the murderous grandmother, and I think the story was well executed. It definitely resonated with me, and I want to commend the author for sharing such a wonderful little tale with us.

    With Alex T. Hilton's piece, which I also thought was well-written, it left me wishing I could continue reading on so I could learn more about this world. The scene was adeptly set, and I wanted to immerse myself in it. That's why, even though I think both stories are winners, my vote goes to Alex T. Hilton.

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  11. I really like the idea of the murderous Great-Grandmother (who wouldn't be interested in that?) but the motivation seems way off. Just a bucket list item? Someone that cold and calculating has to have murdered before, so unfortunately that pulled me out a little.

    As for Alex's story, I thought it had a good setup, but I had to go back and re-read the first paragraph a few times as I was getting tripped up on the commas. But I enjoyed the idea and execution more.

    In the end, my vote is for Alex T Hilton.

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  12. Alex T Hilton: The story was interesting, but overly descriptive, especially regarding the white spectral feathered creature floating mist-snake with a long, floating, feathered body and long, jagged teeth, rows of spiraling, screw-sized teeth. And there was more, but I don't want to belabor the point. All the description took me out of the in-the-moment action and began to feel like filler.

    TravelingGnome: like some others, I was thrown by the Mystery genre, which is a whodunit. Once I got past the misclassification, I enjoyed the story since it's so out of the ordinary. I could also follow the story line easily and wondered at the end if this would be a check mark on Gertrude's bucket list or the beginning of a entirely new "hobby."

    My vote: TravelingGnome

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  13. Alex T. Hilton's story was certainly gripping, but my vote goes to TravelingGnome because Gertrude is my kinda gal.

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  14. Alex T. Hilton: I'm drawn into Jude's world and was relieved when he saved the popcorn-toting girl from a nasty death. Jude's choice- save the world or be normal is a terrific hook.

    Travelinggnome: At first I thought seeing a murder victim was Granny's bucket list item but quickly realized it was actually doing the deed. Her holier-than-thou moral compass turned me off, but I appreciated your warm tea feeling imagery.

    I love a hero and Alex T. Hilton provided a worthy one!

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  15. TravelingGnome has my vote. Definitely drew me in and entertained me. Alex T Hilton did a nice job, but I felt more inclined to keep reading about the murderous granny.

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  16. Vote: TravelingGnome

    Alex T. Hilton had an interesting super-hero origin story concept going on, but some of the sentences were clunky and awkward. It pulled me out of the scene too much when I had to re-read a sentence here and there to figure out what was being said.

    TravelingGnome gave me the answer to the mystery a bit early, but drew me in with the character voice.

    This was a hard choice. Both contestants have obvious talent. In the end, I had to go with the one that left a bit freaked out--because it meant that the piece drew me into the scene more.

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  17. Alex: I think an em dash before curtained and after dough would smooth things out early in your story. It's tough on a reader when the second sentence has to be re-read. That's a lot to come back from early on. I had a pretty good sense of what was going on in this piece that reminded me of Dean Koontz, which is great company to have. I wasn't completely sure of your protag's magic powers, but that's okay if you want it working that way. Keep things suspenseful, I'm fine with that. Only pointing it out in case you DON'T want it that way. I didn't understand how the girl couldn't see the monster but somehow knew it was there. I think you need to show the reader how that worked. Smell? Some other sense? Give us a peek.

    Gnome: Super opening line. That'll grab a reader and thrust them into the story. The ending, for my money, was not up to that high bar you set early. You set up the opportunity for Gertrude to get caught there at the end, but then wasted the moment. Not saying she has to get caught, that's up to you of course. But why not play the moment up and at least have it close. Maybe a kindly patrolman or detective helps her near the end and the reader is wondering if the net is closing in on her before she gets away ... or doesn't. Might build some tension into your story's close or even a cliffhanger if there's more story to come.

    I'm almost forced to flip a coin on this one, but I'll go with TravelingGnome on the strength of the opening.

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  18. Alex - I did have to reread a few of your sentences for getting tripped up in your commas and descriptions at the beginning, but I really like your hero. He chooses the moral high ground in his actions despite this clashing with his internal want to be “normal.” I find myself wanting to know more about what this Burning is, and where he will go.

    TravelingGnome - while I was confused with some word choices like “debarked” (disembarked?), and the phrasing of “execute her bucket list,” I was interested in this murderous grandma. The inner monologue is done decently well. Unfortunately, now that I know whodunnit, all that’s left is why, and for some reason, the character seems very cold to me because of how she describes him. Is she killing off people with bad habits? Or just to kill?

    My vote is for Alex because I want to see where this is going, and I like a hero who fights for the better good.

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  19. My vote is for Alex. Love the suspense and imagery!

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  20. Traveling gnome gets my vote today. Both are a bit heavy in the description, but the twist of a murdering grandmother is just too alluring.

    That being said, I have to give Alex kudos for sounding like a teen. That worked well.

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  21. One vote for Alex T. Hilton!

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  22. This is a very tough choice. Both entries have strong appeal but also problems.

    Alex T. Hilton: Jude's got a great voice, and there are intriguing flashes of the mysterious abilities of the thing he has to deal with. Kids sucked into the sidewalk? Amazing. I'm drawn into his story and want to know what comes next. The problems here are in execution and world building. Some of the sentences I had to read several times to figure out the parsing. Jude's powers aren't consistent, and neither is the monster he deals with. He's building up heat, needing to be careful so he doesn't burn, but also throwing out threads that trip people. This didn't work for me. But the bones of a great story are there, and I want to know more. The genre, by the way, seems more fantasy or possibly horror than science fiction.

    Traveling Gnome: Gertrude the murdering granny is a fun character. The setting, on the cruise ship with its solicitous staff and the police van, is very clear. I had trouble with my suspension of disbelief here. What kind of bucket list does this woman have? Visit Europe, read War and Peace, murder someone? Given how psychopathic she is, what else has she done that would make people cringe? How could someone as feeble and arthritic as she is described cut someone's throat with a steak knife? There's a whole lot of tough tissue there, and the victim won't be passively sitting there letting it happen. And given there's been a brutal murder, aren't the police questioning everyone on board before they let them go?

    I have to cast my vote for Alex T. Hilton.

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  23. I vote for Alex. Jude is a hero with a curse. A sympathetic character. I could picture the theme park scene. And the monster only he could see.

    The great grandma killer was just too much for me to take.

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  24. I'm new to this forum, but critique often in a group. If my understanding is correct, the stores should stand on there own and not as a piece of a longer story. Born entries are entertaining and I applaud their talents.

    In each story there seemed an issue, but the better story for me was the YA.

    In the YA, the reader doesn't need to know all those characters at the start by name. They don't come up again and the word count could use more of what makes the protagonist special. The voice is also old for a kid in 7th grade by what he notices and says in the first half. After the mid-point and the introduction of previous problems in past homes, does he begin to sound like a 12-13 yo. But nicely paced. I'd keep reading.

    The mystery entry has me perplexed as to why murder was on the protagonist's bucket list. It takes a lot of strength to slice a throat especially with a restaurant steak knife. From the description of the character, the deed seemed too unbelievable. But I enjoyed the writing and her character, though unbelievable, was charming.

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    1. Diane - this is an excellent critique but you also have to choose which one you feel should move to the next round. You didn't do that, so if you're reading this can you please clarify your choice.

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  25. I'm casting my vote for Alex T. Hilton. Jude is a much more sympathetic character. The piece would benefit from some close proofreading, as well as from some tightening of the writing to improve clarity. I liked how you drew the reader into Jude's mustering of his powers.

    I felt no sympathy whatsoever for Gertrude and found her rather unlikable - and not in a good way. An elderly woman checking off a crime-spree bucket list is a fun concept, but jumping straight to murder was jarring. Truthfully, Gertrude felt more like a psychopath than a granny deciding to live it up in her last years.

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  26. Two interesting pieces. The POV shifts were distracting in Alex T. Hilton piece although the setting was mysterious. My vote goes for TravelingGnome as I find the premise full of promise. However, the "heavens to myrgatroyd. Did I do that?" does not fit with the character, in my opinion. "The jagged flaps of his throat..." is wonderful.

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  27. Alex, the writing felt like a new writer. The story seemed good, but it feels like it needs some tightening. More verbs, a few less adjectives. The main character seemed interesting though.

    TravelingGnome, with your Granny killer, you've won my vote.

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    1. Granny killer?
      Killer granny?
      Well, you know what I meant.

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  28. I have to go with TravelingGnome, for the surprise and well-writen twist. I loved the voice of the psychopathic great granny. I did have one critique, because in the last sentence the knife seems to be appearing out of nowhere. I though she was envisioning the scene, but then she had the knife in her hands?

    Alex, I think you need to tighten up your words. I got lost in the length of the sentences and the extra descriptors.

    Today's vote to TravelingGnome

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  29. My vote is for Traveming Gnome.

    Alex's has an interesting concept, and I'd like to learn more. But I was a little confused about what exactly was going on. The voice and POV of TravelingGnome's really drew me in.
    -Jennifer Kinzler

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    1. Oops! Traveling Gnome for the vote :)

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  30. I'm voting for Alex, because I feel like that entry did a great job of setting up the world and the character and the conflict and the hook. It also starts and ends at a good place which is hard for a 500 word entry. I do question the Sci Fi though, because it clearly isn't.

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  31. Traveling Gnome: A matter of taste, but I couldn't relate to the implausible scenario. The caricatured MC read like Tweety Bird's sweet little Granny turned psychopath, and the 'Murgatroyd' clinched the cartoon equivalency for me.

    Alex Hilton: The piece has potential, but needs tightening up, clarification, and polish. Watch the head-hopping. I'm intrigued by the brief instances you slipped into the creature's POV - why does it want Jude? Good effort; keep working it.

    Today's vote to Alex T Hilton.

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  32. I loved both stories, although horror/sci-fi is not my favorite genre. Alex T Hilton did a good job with the story, but some punctuation misfires distracted me from the story. A good re-write and tightening up will help.

    TravelingGnome: right up my alley! A granny doing a murder - sounds like an interesting bucket list and makes me want to know what else is on the list.

    My vote goes to TravelingGnome.

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  33. This is the first time all challenge that I've had a hard time choosing because I've liked both entries! I'm intrigued by both and want to see where they eventually end up. But I'd have to say for today that my vote goes to Alex Hilton

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  34. This one was so tough because I enjoyed both these entries and would love to read more. I debated for a long time, but ultimately decided on TravelingGnome for the following reasons:
    Alex does need some minor touch-ups to take his writing to the next level: the previously mentioned comma issue, use of crutch words like "all" and "just" and overuse of adverbs: "sighed deeply"
    Also, TravelingGnome had a great opening hook, and I'm dying to know what else is on her bucket list, since she's already checked off murder (which seems like it would be tough to top!) Lastly, I'm impressed by anyone who can spell "myrgatroyd." (For the record, I disagree with a prior comment about it use of that line not fitting the character - it's an old-fashioned statement, and she's an old lady. However, if you did want to change it, "heavens to Betsy" is another old-timer saying that my mother-in-law uses all the time.)

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  35. My vote goes to TravelingGnome.

    While both pieces had their issues, Gnome's at least clearly expressed the story. I knew exactly what was going on, even thought the why was murky. I particularly liked the use of the word, 'odious', and the hot-tea-on-a-winter's-night simile. I thought I would never get to the end of the second sentences in the 2nd & last paragraphs --at 44 & 49 words, they could use some work. Some parts of the story were unrealistic - unloading a body with the disembarking (not 'debarking') passengers, the body not in a body bag, an arthritic, cane-carrying 87-year old slicing a man's throat with a steak knife, and the same handicapped person stepping up on the van's bumper. The whole thrill-killer thing seemed a bit too much Leopold-and-Loeb (see the play, "The Rope" and Hitchcock's adaptation "Rope"). While oldies can get crotchety and querulous, none of the octa-, nona-, and centagenarians (centenarians?) I have known have gone all sociopathic. Maybe some more items from her bucket list could have given us insight into her state of mind - dementia? And all I could think of when seeing the Murgatroyd exclamation was the pink Snagglepuss cartoon character.

    Hilton's story, on the other hand, was confusing. He packed so much world building into such a short scene as to cause more questions than he answered. Backstory, the MC's powers, and the snake's motivation kept me guessing to the point of not knowing much of anything. I liked his noun-to-verb conversion of 'spiderwebbed' and 'pretzling'. He head-hopped with presuming the know the snake's motivation ("...only wanting Jude.", "...twitched with frustration.", and "...sensed through the crowd by tasting his spent energy.") And Alex simply must sort out his use of commas and dashes. Nouns appended to adjectives must be hyphenated - he got it right with "denim-clad", but missed it with "costume clad" - also a bit repetitive, and "circuit painted"). A good story with lots of potential, but it needs clarifying.

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  36. Wow! These both are gripping stories.

    Alex T. Hilton does a fantastic job of crafting setting and building an intriguing world.

    But TravelingGnome has such a twist with its characters and the story unfolds so fluidly and leaves me wanting so much more!

    TravelingGnome gets my vote :)

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  37. It felt to me like Hilton tried to cram too much into 500 words by leading every noun with multiple adjectives or compouond adjectives. He mixed five characters plus the Jude, the protagonist, in with the plethora of descriptive words adding to the confusion. However, even with all of the excess baggage, I found Jude and his quest compelling. The bones are there for a great story. Work on the craft and clean up the story and I see a winner.

    I enjoy a romp with a surprising octogenarian, but not this one. The writing was clear and I clearly did not identify with the character at all. The premise felt weak and the motivation even weaker. The ending left me cold.

    My vote goes to Alex T. Hilton.

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  38. To be frank, I'm not sure why Alex's story is marked as 'sci-fi.' I see nothing in there that hints at that genre and the story reads more as a paranormal or fantasy than science fiction, especially with the creature only the MC can see and the sudden burst of magic or power the MC has. Additionally, not a lot happens. There's really nothing to grab me in this story and no sense of tension.

    Gnome's story was cute and dark. It offers up an interesting character who incites many questions among the reader - the good kind of questions. I would have liked to know more about this little old lady.

    As such, my vote goes to TravelingGnome.

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  39. My vote is for TravelingGnome. The thought in the forefront of my mind was, "Wait, 'murder' was on her bucket list?" I had a number of questions by the end - the good kind - while Alex's piece just felt like something I was assigned to read in order to vote. There was nothing really gripping me about Alex's piece. Perhaps more character development would have helped Alex's piece?

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  40. TravelingGnome, the opening is intriguing and flows well. Alex T. Hilton: I feel for the character and his plight. I can already get a sense of his moral dilemma.

    I vote for Alex T. Hilton.

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  41. I found things about both of these to be problematic.

    For Alex T. Hilton- In this section 'It bumped around kids', if the kids can't feel this, it should probably be more obvious because later on when it says 'She had just walked into the creature' it sounded like she knew she did it and I had to go re-read a few times to make sure I understood that the kids cannot feel or see it until it takes a chunk out of them with its teeth? I guess? Also, I have no clue what android face paint is, even with the wires explanation. There is no sense in the beginning that Jude has powers so when he trips someone with this string he conjures up, I thought it was the creature who did the tripping at first. Overall I felt uneasy like I was missing something and things just weren't too clear.

    For TravelingGnome, I most certainly got a kick of a murderous granny for sure. However, I too felt like the mystery was gone once we find out she really did do it and for no real good reason(or so it appears). I do realize all of this could be misdirection and perhaps she's just imagining it(she is 87) or something else is going on we don't know about, but as is presented, I couldn't see myself reading more.

    My vote goes to Alex T. Hilton

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  42. I have a bucket list too so I can relate to Granny - murder, however, is not on it - but it was a funny story in a sick kind of way. Alex T. Hilton definitely gets the creepy prize with his great descriptive piece, but my vote goes to TravelingGnome.

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  43. Neither quite did it for me, though there were some good points in both.

    Alex

    My impression was that it was weighed down with description, and far too wordy “long, feathered, floating body". You might want to pick the strongest words instead of listing an assortment, which slows the pace. Also, the action/danger didn’t become evident until quite far in, so it might work better to have something shocking happen in the first lines, then the background, then into the danger.

    Curtained with scents, pinged with laughter. I don’t feel these phrases work well enough - laughter doesn’t ping, how does a scene curtain? It pulled me from the story to analyse them.

    Once the danger became apparent, with the list of where they’d lived (that worked for me), then it was a much more interesting read, but still with too many descriptor words. Less is more!

    "Anxiety gripped” is to some extent telling, what did it *feel* like inside his stomach? Then let us assume anxiety from that, rather than being told.

    Try to order the sentence to put action first then the result, rather than vice versa. So she falls and the popcorn spills around her.

    Nice ideas, and it could be a good story, Buffy style. You just need to stop the juicy stuff being lost in amongst all that description.

    TravelingGnome
    Great first line - funny and a good hook. Also great name choice, nicely incongruous for a murderer.

    I think your writing could be more powerful if cleaner, again there are too many words, and because of this your run on sentences become a bit confusing. Maybe try to vary your sentence length as well.

    Some funny lines (she would have told him that, if he was alive), that bring her alive as a character. Nice concept & I think she’s interesting and would definitely like to know what else she has on her bucket next (something bad, I hope), and what she does to get out of this particular fix. I think we will need to find out more about her psychology, how she's ended up doing this and not feeling remorse. It's like Raffles: Amateur Cracksman, though with murder rather darker.

    Overall: TravelingGnome

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  44. Alex T. Hilton ... I'm not sure I totally understand what's going on in this story. It's just not my personal cup of tea.

    TravelingGnome... Incredibly amusing. I hope your story doesn't start a string of elderly killers. Ha ha ha. Great work though, and you have my vote.

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  45. Traveling Gnome's entry is excellent and well written, but I'm more curious about Alex Hilton's entry and where it's going so that gets my vote today.

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  46. Congrats to both writers!

    Alex T. Hilton - I liked your description of the spectral creature and the ending left me wanting more. The story was a bit confusing though...if the snake was stalking Jude, why did it seem “surprised” that he saved the girl with his Burn energy? Also, if Jude has the power to destroy these creatures, why does it sound like his family runs away whenever he encounters one? It’s hard to explain all that in 500 words though. You did a good job overall.

    TravelingGnome - love the idea of great-granny crossing “murder” off her bucket list. Makes me wonder what other nefarious deeds are on that list. But your story seemed too easy and perfect for a murder mystery. There must be footage of great-granny with the old man at the casino so I don’t see her disembarking without any mention of being questioned about her whereabouts the night before. Also, how convenient that the sheet slipped off the dead man so she could get a peek at her handiwork - make it a just a little harder for her to get her kicks. Also, at the end of the last paragraph it sounds like you’re saying old people are handicapped so be careful how you phrase that.

    My vote goes to Alex T. Hilton because I want to see who wins the fight!:)

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  47. The concept in Alex's piece is very interesting and original. The writing was good, but there was a lot of description in the wrong places. You have this very cool being, but little to go on about it. Some additional description was added, but it was too late to clarify and only took away from the story.

    Traveling's piece was also interesting and twisty. The writing in this one is tighter without too many words. Readers had enough description to set the scene, but not so much that it took away my imagination.

    I definitely want to know more about both pieces.

    My vote goes to Traveling Gnome for it's smoother story telling.

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  48. Alex T. Hilton: Well done. I enjoyed the vivid word choices, although this almost seemed overdone at times, with too many adjectives. I would have liked this piece to be more than Jude's internal thoughts and have some external action parts.

    Traveling Gnome: Also well done. Granny is a fascinating creature. The writing is tight. I thought Granny being able to peek at the dead body was far-fetched, though.

    My vote goes to Traveling Gnome.

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  49. I enjoyed the story line of great grandmother committing murder as a bucket list item but at the same time can't get into it. The victim needs to be someone who deserves to die (at least someone she knows or knows of) and the method of murder has to be one that I believe the perpetrator could commit. Most very elderly women would poison someone not somehow slice their throat (now if she were a senior olympian or triathlon runner I'd buy it). I also couldn't figure out what the mystery was. If this was just the prolog and the rest of the story is in the mind of a police detective (or in this case FBI investigator), I could understand the classification and it might make an awesome story. But I don't get this from the snippet...

    Jude and his killer ghost made me want to know more. The writing here could be tightened and more dialog/interaction with the group of kids he's with to bring out some of the internal dialogue would make this flow better. I also agree with someone else. This is more like fantasy than sci fi.

    My vote is for Alex T Hilton.

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  50. My vote goes to: Alex T. Hilton

    Alex, your piece could definitely use some tightening up, be careful with the adjectives, try to describe less and just tell us the story because the story sounds interesting.

    TravelingGnome, I enjoyed your piece, I really did. You're a good writer, and you're able to get the point across smoothly. But this piece is lacking a certain something that makes me want to read it again or to read more. It doesn't stick with you. Give us a little more and I think it will.

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  51. Kudos to both for making it in! These are both terrific pieces!

    Alex - Your piece is incredibly tightly written, and I loved the concept. You do a fantastic amount in the limited space you're given, and I understand who your protagonist is, why he doesn't want to leave, the burdens he carries, and what he must do. It had a very Brandon Sanderson vibe, which I enjoyed. Your hook is spectacular, too!

    Travelling - your hook is absolutely spectacular. I loved the voice for your Granny character, and the plot and concept are amazing. That said, there were just a few examples in there where a sentence really needed to be shortened or broken in two. A good litmus test for a sentence is that if you run out of breath by the time/before you finish reading, it should be changed accordingly. It sucks, because your sentences are both hilarious and gorgeous, but that's part of the whole 'kill your darlings' thing. That said, I would LOVE to keep reading, and the concept did hold me tighter than Alex's! I do lose a little of the sense of the overarching plot, though--now that murder has been checked off her bucket list, what's next? Is the police investigation going to interfere with her accomplishing the rest of her list and form the central conflict? I'm sure I'd find out if I had the entire novel, or even more than just this snippet, but it raises questions that aren't answered.

    But, since I have to vote one way or the other...
    ... my vote goes to Alex T. Hilton.

    (But both pieces were FANTASTIC!)

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  52. Omg, Traveling Gnome for dayssssss. Yes, please, I need a geriatric murderer in my life. Sorry, I don't have much in the way of critiquing for this one, just a vote for Gnome.

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  53. Travelling Gnome. She had an interesting premise and a unique set up. Also, the prose was on point.

    Alex T Hilton left me confused. The genre doesn’t feel YA SCI FI but rather MG FANTASY. There was a huge info dump. It sounded like it could be interesting but it needs to be cleaner.

    -SP Hofrichter

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  54. The writing in both entries is wonderful. I'm voting today based solely on the premise of the story. I have a hard time wrapping my head around a gleeful murderous granny, therefore, my vote goes to Alex T. Hilton, knowing I'd enjoy reading his story.

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  55. Congratulations to both writers for making the bouts. You both have unique story premises to be proud of.

    That said, you also both have some tangled syntax issues. With Alex T. Hilton, that first paragraph is hard to get through with too many asides thrown in to the middle of sentences, making for a choppy and hard to follow read. Things improved after that, but there were other sentences throughout that need work. With Traveling Gnome, the biggest confusion comes in paragraph 2 where the second sentence runs on and sounds like she met the old man's white tufts of hair instead of him.

    But the most important thing here is the story and its presentation, and this is a hard choice. They are both creative ideas. Who doesn't love an old lady playing against type and being pretty evil? I've no sense of the time period here -- current-day or distant past -- but "Heavens to Murgatroyd" was old-fashioned when I was a kid, and I'm old, lol. Also not sure the attendant would buy Gertrude's line that she's resting when she seems to still be standing on the fender of the coroner's van. I do like her devilment though.

    I think Alex T. Hilton did a better job of fleshing out the main character -- although it's a bit confusing, his motivation is all there and slipped in without a lot of exposition. Good job.

    Because of the characterization, I'm voting for Alex T. Hilton this round. But good job to both of you! Keep going with these stories whatever the outcome of this round.

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  56. Great stories! I really enjoyed both. Traveling Gnome was very inventive, a geriatric Dexter is a fun concept. But, my vote goes to Alex T. Hilton because it ended with a lot of tension and I wanted to know what would happen next.

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  57. Gosh, this competition seems to get tougher as we go along! These last two rounds have really just come down to personal preference on the subject matter rather than any deficiencies in any of the stories.

    Both stories engaged me and caught my attention!!!

    In the end, I decided I have to throw my vote to TravelingGnome only because it reminds me so much of Arsenic and Old Lace! I love that story so like I said pure personal preference.

    Both writers did a great job! Best of luck to you both!

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  58. My vote goes to Alex T. Hilton.
    Alex: I liked the premise of the piece. Disaster only he can see, and the effect it has on those around him. Interesting tidbit about this being the first in two years. The writing felt a bit forced to me, the details about the friends walking ahead of Jude were a bit more distracting than illuminating.
    TravelingGnome: I really liked the narrators voice. Enjoying her old age instead of resenting it. The story left me scratching my head a bit, wondering why this particular item was on her bucket list. But maybe that’s the mystery.

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  59. Alex: This story is really exciting, but it's confusing and clunky in the beginning. There are four people introduced in the first, short paragraph and it takes me a while to figure out that the spectre, the feathered thing, and the snake thing, which are all "ghostly creatures" (plural) that only he can see...and they're all the same thing. Still, the idea of these things and that he fights them and moves around a lot, plus the various abilities that these creatures have...it all intrigues me. I would definitely read more of this story, hopefully without having to re-read things to make sure I'm tracking with the details. I agree with others that there are bits that could have been left out or streamlined, like the friends walking up ahead since it detracts from what we want to focus on. Overall, great plot movement, though!

    Gnome: Awesome opening sentence. It grabbed my attention. I also liked the unexpected twist of her being an old lady. I was a bit lost on why she killed the man (besides him chain smoking, which she didn't approve of, but that's no reason to murder someone). Also, it seemed impractical that the sheet covering Floyd's body would have fallen completely off. If there was a bit of the body she could see, I'd buy it, but not the entire sheet gone unless someone purposely removed it. While the flow of the sentences was smooth and the descriptive words were spot-on, I found the setup to be impractical (like the old lady that had never murdered anyone but now relished the fact that she had killed some poor schmuck in cold blood...it doesn't fit). The writing is good but the story needs to make a bit more sense for me to want to read it.

    Final vote: Alex!

    Great job making it into the ring, guys! Congratulations!

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  60. My vote goes to Alex T. Hilton.
    In traveling gnome's story, I love the characters, I love the premise, I really enjoyed reading it. I wished there was a little bit more of a stomach drop conclusion, like a more dramatic what's going to happen next?
    For Alex T. Hilton, I got some serious Buffy vibes, lots of individual character, and I loved it. There were some areas where I'd like some clarification, especially around the memories of past places he's lived, and wishing to be reading a comic instead of around people.

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  61. I'm voting for Alex T. Hilton. Both entries set up intriguing scenes and had interesting voice, but it takes a lot to make me invest in a villain as a main character. Alex's protagonist quickly struck me as someone I would want to keep following.

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  62. Though I'm not entirely sure what the mystery is, my vote has got to go to Traveling Gnome. But - and I can't believe I'm going to say this - I wish Gertrude were a little more of a sympathetic character. True, you don't always have to have a likable MC, but something about an old lady finally fulfilling her murderous fantasy needs a little more background. Why had she restrained herself for so long? What was holding her back? Is it a sense of freedom she's feeling in having committed the murder, on top of the rush. Give us something to feel good about here because I want to. I really want to.

    Alex T. Hilton, I'm almost there with your idea. It's the description of the setting and some technical details that are holding me back. The entity is sounding a bit like the Hollows from Miss Peregrine's and that's ok as long as you are able to make it clear what exactly they are and what happens when the children disappear and it's more original than not. Nefarious creatures going after children is an old trope (a la The Witches, Coraline, and basically every Goosebumps book written) but it works and so I say go with it. But decide what your genre is - sci-fi or dark fantasy - and if this book is for youth, young adults, or adults.

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  63. While I typically enjoy fluff, I agree Hilton was a little over-descriptive. The piece could benefit from a trim. However! Hilton was able to give me the perfect balance of being in the dark while slightly being in the know. I know enough to care about Jude and his friends, but I don't know what's actually going on. Hilton left me on the edge of my seat.

    TravelingGnome did an amazing job with some dark humor in this piece with that first line. The setting was vivid, putting me right on the ship, and the description of Gertrude herself was divine. However, I felt myself longing for more mystery like the genre suggested. I knew what happened immediately. And the character, while creepily cool, doesn't really make sense to me. How was she able to accomplish murder at that age? But maybe more backstory would have helped.

    While both writers clearly show AMAZING talent, I'm going to have to go with Alex T. Hilton for leaving me wanting more!

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  64. Alex T Hilton, just not my cup of tea. While it appears to a bit interesting, just couldn't finish it.

    TravelingGnome offers different view of murder. Not just typical gangster style hit man, but a entirely different setting. I'd bite and finish that one.

    TravelingGnome has my vote.

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  65. Good job, both of you!

    TravelingGnome gets my vote today.

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  66. Loved them both, but am going to have to go with Alex T. Hilton. You guys sure aren't making these choices easy!

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  67. My vote is for Traveling Gnome, as it was easier to sink into the story, and I loved the creepy ending!

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  68. Great job with both of these. They had a similar weird sort of feel to them.

    Alex T. Hilton made me want to read the rest of this story. I felt a hint of something fascinating happening with this Jude and his family. The creatures and Jude's abilities felt unique, but I lost some of the action of the theme park in the description of his constant moving and got a little confused.

    Traveling Gnome's piece was artful. The murder bucket list, the alliteration, the inventive use of adjectives, all of this was a pleasure to read. This story seems hilarious and I've never read about a sweet little old budding serial killer before. I'd love to read more.

    Traveling Gnome has my vote (other wise Gertrude might come after me).

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  69. Both stories were alluring in their own ways. But my vote is for Hilton.

    I enjoyed reading the world Jude is a part of, where he needs to be a protector. Though over-descriptive at times, I appreciate the hook and want to read more about Jude.

    Traveling Gnome’s story could have done with a little more mystery and suspense in my opinion. I like the idea of a murderous granny, but the story itself did not leaving me feeling as engaged.

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  70. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  71. As it seems we have ended the voting period in a tie (first one in a couple years), it falls to me to break it. This is why my wife, and not I, process the submissions so I don't know anybody's real name.

    As plenty have said before, it's incredible how evenly matched these two pieces are. What separates them for me is TENSION and CARING ABOUT THE CHARACTERS. Although the killer grandma is very entertaining and well-written, there is no tension and I really don't care much about an old woman who believes taking a life is an item for a bucket list. On the contrary, there is plenty of tension in Alex's piece and I care what happens to its character, even 500 words in.

    So - my vote - and the bout - go to Alex.

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